Dear Oscar Whiners:
So Your Favorite Got Snubbed? So what?
Immediately after the 88th Academy Awards nominations were announced Thursday morning, the predictable Monday-morning-quarterbacking-on-Friday began, led by the Straight Outta Compton supporters. After the Oscar nominations yielded no Best Picture spot for the N.W.A biopic and no nods for any non-white actors, the #OscarsSoWhite Twitter hashtag fired up almost immediately. Many fans, particularly black fans, are upset that the season’s most notable “black” film was left out and performances from Will Smith (Concussion) and Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation) were rejected by Academy voters.
Likewise, a small but vocal segment of fans are questioning the logic of excluding the powerhouse Star Wars: The Force Awakens despite its record-setting debut and considerable societal buzz.
Other considered snubs are Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott in the Best Director category for Bridge of Spies and The Martian, respectively.
There are all kinds of theories and speculations about how films are chosen and what influences factor into nominations. If you can understand the basics of the process itself, you might change your mind about where and when your snub outrage is applied.
The quick version is this: In order to vote for Academy Award nominations, one must first be an inducted member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science. There are currently about 6,000-plus members and the requirements for membership are quite stringent. You are nominated to one category and that’s the only category you are permitted to vote in for your entire duration as an Academy member. For instance, Angelina Jolie may be both director and actor but if she was inducted as an actress, she can only vote in the acting category. Likewise for all the categories – technical members vote on technical awards, directors vote for directing awards, etc.
Nomination ballots are sent to all members and they are instructed to vote for their favorite work. No other suggestions or persuasions are offered. Voters simply write in their top five choices.
The “influencing” part comes in when studios and artist management begin lobbying Academy voters to consider their projects. Sometimes they take out television or publication ads. Sometimes they hold special screenings and events. Often they send out “screeners” for members to view at home. There is no big brother pushing Academy voters to consider one piece of work over another, white actors over black, big budget films over independent projects. The entire nomination process is predicated on the personal preferences of a body of voters.
If a film like Straight Outta Compton doesn’t make it through the nomination process, it’s because Academy voters didn’t watch it and/or didn’t care for it. Film is an entertainment format. People only watch movies to be entertained in some way. Even Academy voters. It’s not outside the realm of reason that most Academy voters are white and many probably are not fans of N.W.A. (I’m sure many are but, statistically speaking, it’s sure to be a low number.) It may simply not occur to many of them to watch the movie in the first place. You may be saying to yourself right now, “This is just proof we need more diversity in the Academy,” and that may well be true but black Americans make up a mere 12 percent of the national population. Considering our numbers currently working in film and television and garnering awards, I’d say our representation in Hollywood is pretty much right on the money. If we want a bigger stake, we need more people (we could start by tackling the hideous abortion numbers in black communities – but that’s another column for another day).
Another factor is the technical aspect of the movie-making process. As fans, we see an end result and judge it accordingly. Academy members are professionals and have a unique understanding of the mechanisms of filmmaking. We – the fans – may see a thrilling, entertaining blockbuster like “Star Wars” as the most exciting movie of the year, but a pool of experienced directors might be more inclined to honor the smaller budgets or their peers who execute their craft in a particular interesting way. It’s inside baseball, so to speak.
Finally, the Academy Awards serve two purposes according to their history. The first is to honor and unite the different branches of the entertainment industry: technical, production, direction, acting and writing. Louis B. Mayer (MGM) originally established the awards as a way to encourage creativity in the industry.
In Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer, Scott Eyman quotes Mayer on the Oscars: “I found that the best way to handle [filmmakers] was to hang medals all over them … If I got them cups and awards they’d kill them to produce what I wanted. That’s why the Academy Award was created.”
The second purpose is to encourage the movie-going public to attend the box office. Films that don’t receive wide audiences often see a surge in ticket sales if nominated as fans rush to view all the offerings before the ceremonies. Fans are already seeing “Star Wars;” it’s not hard to imagine Academy members making an effort to make less commercial projects by their friends, peers and mentors more visible through the nomination process. In short, the Academy awards earn more money for Hollywood in general.
We can whine and moan about white privilege or classism or racism or whatever the -ism may be, but the truth is that the only way to shift the tastes of the Academy voters is to create a more diverse set of Academy inductees.
So #OscarsSoWhite folks, get off Twitter and pick up a camera. Write a script. Take an acting class. Become a creator, an influencer. Stop asking other people to be the change for you and go be your own change. It can be done. As the number of minority members increases so will the consideration for minority-heavy offerings, if for no other reason than it will be those members gravitating towards the projects they prefer both socially and culturally.
Star Wars fans – just deal with it. Although it’s been nominated in some technical categories, the franchise doesn’t need an award to legitimize it. Disney just has to sit and stare at their giant mountain of gold if they want to feel legitimate.
If you’re like me and you love movies, go watch some. Don’t be so quick to be angry about your favorite star or film being left out. Go see what was nominated and you may change your mind on some counts. Real life is a tough grind and there’s nothing wrong with spending a few bucks here and there to be swept away in a story, an adventure for a couple of consequence-free hours. Yes, it’s fluff…but don’t we work hard enough to deserve a little glittery fluff every now and then? The Oscars don’t have to change the world; they’re just there for a little entertaining.
But we all agree that Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief got robbed for Best Documentary, right??????
Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images
Kira Davis is a writer, video blogger and homeschool mother of two. She has interviewed President Obama and appeared on Fox News, The BlazeTV and the Dr. Phil Show. Kira is a dog person but she owns a cat anyway. You can find her on Twitter @RealKiraDavis.
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